A summary of The Hidden Gifts of Retail with Jeremy Stone

January 27, 2021

Kim Regala
Communications & Marketing Assistant, SFU Public Square

A sense of virtual togetherness was easily felt at the Hidden Gifts of Retail: Resilience and Planning for Community Life, a lecture and conversation led by Jeremy Stone, Director of SFU’s Community Economic Development (CED) Program

A discussion on the significant role that retail offers in strengthening our communities was a fitting kickoff to this year’s President’s Faculty Lectures, a series hosted by SFU President Joy Johnson to examine the themes of resilience and recovery through the lens of groundbreaking research and researchers.

The event began with a warm welcome from Sxwpilemaát Siyám (also known as Chief Leanne Joe) of the Squamish Nation, who works alongside Stone, as the Transformative Storyteller for Economic Reconciliation at the CED Program. 

“This topic is very close to the work that I do, especially given the times that we’re in and where we’re moving towards,” she said, mentioning the connection between land tenure and social entrepreneurship to economic resilience.

Stone began with the question: what is resilience? Traditionally, it is viewed as a means of bouncing back or returning to a state of normalcy. But Stone – whose background is in disaster recoveries – said “you can never bounce back. You can only adapt to the changes that have happened because of any given disaster.”

His approach to resiliency borrows from Indigenous knowledge. Seeing resilience from a more ecological standpoint, he referred to it as the ability of a system to maintain basic functions even in the face of change, and how different species contribute to different functions. Similarly, a community relies on “keystone” elements that support critical functions within our society to remain resilient.

For Stone, “these functions and resilience are intricately related to income inequality, gentrification and the opioid crisis. If we’re losing parts of our population or certain businesses, it threatens the resilience of neighbourhoods. It threatens the resilience of communities.”

During the pandemic, many retail businesses in the food, home and safety sectors were considered “essential.” However, a lot of stores deemed as “non-essential” have suffered economic losses and closures under COVID-19 restrictions.

Stone emphasized that while these restrictions are valid, there are key functions that “non-essential” retail businesses provide in keeping cities like Vancouver resilient, particularly in their role of developing art and culture.

For example, Rokko Sarees and Fabrics, a store in Vancouver’s Sunset neighbourhood, has served multiple generations of communities. They work hard to incorporate fashion trends and fabrics from India that may otherwise not be available to the Indo-Canadian community.

Stone also highlighted businesses like Tenth and Proper Boutique, Vancouver Special Art and Design and LaLa’s on the Drive, that showcase the work of local artists and designers. Their connection to retail goes beyond just selling. They also provide entrepreneurial skills and opportunities for students and up-and-coming artists to understand the business side of the industry, develop their craft, and build connections and networks in design communities.

Stone also brought a new perspective to the “essentiality” of food businesses. With the increasing gentrification of neighbourhoods like Chinatown, he highlighted restaurants such as Maenam and Fat Mao that not only provide food, but also “contribute to the invigoration and reinvigoration of culture and place.”

To save retail, Stone suggested:

1. Supporting local businesses

“If we just did a ten percent shift to local businesses, we would create 14,000 new jobs in BC and another $4.3 billion dollars for the economy. We don’t have to cut out online ordering or going to major chains, but if we can have less Amazon in our lives and more Buy Local programs and more public procurement policies that municipalities are buying locally, we could really improve the resilience and longevity of local businesses.”

2. Identifying keystone businesses and strengthening them

“We can work with our neighbourhoods and small communities and map out these important businesses and specifically work with them to develop business continuity plans and to get extra support so that we don’t lose them in a time of disaster.”

3. Economic resilience planning

“Very few – if any – municipalities across Canada have specific economic resilience plans that can be applied to any hazard. The Kootenays economic resilience planning is something that can be done in the Lower Mainland … or anywhere, but we need the political will to do so.”

Concluding his lecture, Stone emphasized that local planning is essential. “We all have a role to play – residents, organizations, and municipalities. But we need to be working together to plan for it.”

Further, he acknowledged that while the discussion has been largely centered around resilience planning, there are communities – particularly those that are marginalized – who have been resilient. 

“These communities are strong communities,and yet we haven’t championed that by giving them the adequate resources and changing the policies to allow them to use all of that built-in resilience, strength and determination to succeed.”

The conversation continued

A Q&A portion followed, moderated by Joy Johnson, where the conversation continued around the role of universities in all of this, city local procurement, the contradictions in local economic resilience and global economic and trade systems, sustainability concerns add more.

The next President's Faculty Lecture is with Parin Dossa, Professor of Anthropology, on Envisioning Social Justice From the Margins. Join us on Tuesday, February 9th at 6:00 p.m., where she will reveal the challenges in reversing systemic injustice through transformative stories of Muslim women.

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